With Thanksgiving a week in the rear view mirror, most of the leftovers gone (or on their way to the curb or bio-weapons factory), and the guilt and/or shame you felt the next day after drinking too much chardonnay having mostly passed, it’s time to reflect. To think back on the appetizer that disappeared 30 seconds after serving it. The joke you told that got genuine laughter versus the nervous holy-shit-did-she-really-just-say-that giggle that most of your “material” typically receives. And how the invention of Fireball cinnamon-flavored whiskey could be a harbinger of the End of Days.

All of these memories of success or shame are to be processed and used for planning whatever other party you might be tasked with conjuring up in the next 30 days. And while it’s easy for the brain to latch onto food and beverage preparation, equal mind share should be given to your bumper and parry strategy.

While bumper and parry planning might not be essential for a get-together of friends, it is of the upmost importance when having multiple family members under one roof for a holiday gathering. Its level of importance rises exponentially if you’re mixing in-laws. And if mixing in-laws with your friends, well then knowing the B&P is akin to being the only passenger on the plane who knows how to land the jet after the pilots have been felled by food poising. It’s important to note though that to have an effective bumper and parry strategy, you must first know what the hell ‘bumpers’ and ‘parries’ are.

Step One: Identify your bumpers. Bumpers are those folks who will be attending your party who, with the slightest nudge/provocation/’bump’, will begin talking about a topic you know to be safe. These people are often sports enthusiasts (not fanatics), currently employed in the service industry (bartenders, customer service agents), sales and marketing people, or professional therapists. Such folks are skilled at getting innocuous conversations started and can be counted on to recognize an impending awkward silence and take the necessary steps to fill it.

Bumpers move elegantly and engagingly between topics like new movie releases, holiday traffic, and the weather, while leaving no chance for the conversation to be sucked into the climate-change rabbit hole. When they sense a silence looming, they’re apt to comment on the paint color of whatever room they’re in (“I love this shade of grey. Is it pewter?”), or a commercial that might have just flashed across the TV. We all have people like this in our lives. Use them.

How many bumpers to invite is determined by your party’s anticipated dispersion pattern and attendance projection. A good rule of thumb is a 1:8 ratio, but this guide is only applicable if you expect people to congregate in one area. If you’re anticipating a guest diaspora to such areas like the kitchen, a deck/porch, and/or where a TV might be providing background noise, you’ll want to have at least four bumpers on your list. How many wildcards you’ve invited might also increase your bumper count. Wildcards include religious aunts, recent college grads with multiple facial piercings who have majored in Political Science, and anyone with more than three stickers on their car. If your guest list includes someone from each of these categories, add at least two bumpers to the mix.

Step Two: Practice your parries. For those not raised by a Marine who made sure all of his children were proficient in hand-to-hand  combat by the age of six, a parry is a maneuver used to deflect or redirect an incoming blow to one’s person. Think of Ralph Macchio knowing how to “sand the floor” in the Karate Kid. The verbal equivalent of this can be deployed in any situation where one of your Wildcards breaches your Bumper defense and fires a missile sure to nuke a perfectly weather-based holiday conversation. A scenario might look something like this:

You’re an hour into your party and it has hit its rhythm. The music’s at the perfect level. The din of laughter and jovial conversation has all but drowned out the 695th hour of football. And you’ve consumed the perfect amount of wine and are floating from room to room, taking in compliments and kisses on the cheek. And then you see it: Aunt X has somehow managed to corner three of your friends by the fridge. You know where she’ll be taking the conversation. The oversized wooded crucifix she’s wearing makes her look like a cross between Jerry Falwell and Flavor Flav. You arrive on scene just in time to hear, “You know what I’m thankful for? Jesus Christ Our Lord Our Savior allowing me to open my eyes this morning and read that our blessed God-fearing Congressman will be voting to make sure those…”

But you don’t even break a sweat at the realization of where this conversation’s going. Because while you haven’t rehearsed for this exact situation, you’ve practiced enough parries across multiple scenarios that you’re able to draw on that practice and formulate the perfect parry on the fly. And before Aunt X can identify who “those” people are, you’re in front of it with, “You know what I most appreciated about Jesus? The fact that he was a carpenter. That had to be a tough gig back then. Aunt X, did you know that Cousin Y just got into carpentry and he framed out the garage? You’ve got to see how talented he is; let me show you.” And there you go. Parry deployed. Missile successfully redirected into the garage.

How you choose to rehearse your parries will come down to this simple rule: know your audience. ID your Wildcards and their peccadillos and practice accordingly.

Good luck out there and know that a solid Bumper and Parry strategy is key to a healthy and happy holiday season.